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It's More Judas Priest - 76%

old_man, September 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Columbia Records

Judas Priest is among the greats of heavy metal, being a forefather of the genre and influencing almost every metal band since in one way or another. Even though it's been almost half a century since their debut, it's still a big deal when they drop a new LP. Personally, Priest is one of my favorite bands of all time, and their monumental 1990 release, Painkiller, almost single-handedly piqued my interest in heavier music. However, I can't say I'm in love with their latest release: Firepower. Not that it's a bad album, or that I dislike it, but it's just something they've done before. Firepower is a collection of heavy riffs and anthemic choruses that's enjoyable, but overstays it's welcome, and is certainly nothing new. Depending on what you're looking for you may love this album, or you may be pretty lukewarm on it. I am of the latter variety.

Upon my first listen of Firepower I would often get the urge to listen to Painkiller... and that isn't really a good thing. Firepower functions like many a Judas Priest album: driving guitar, bass, and drums, accompanied by Rob Halford's epic vocals, all packaged in easily digestible song structures. This, to me, is Firepower's biggest problem. The album is great if you've never heard Painkiller, Screaming for Vengeance, or any of their other classics from that era. But we've all already listened to those albums a million times haven't we? Don't get me wrong, the album is packed with with plenty of great guitar riffs, and loads of catchy vocal refrains, there's just nothing new or interesting enough to really warrant much excitement. On top of all this I also prefer the production of the aforementioned classics. Firepower is an example of good modern production, it's very punchy and easy on the ears while still feeling pretty lively. Yet I still prefer the more bombastic, arena sized production of their 80s material.

Firepower also has some pretty severe length and overall structure problems, the almost one hour run time causes the album to more than overstay it's welcome. There's far too much similarity between tracks to justify the album going on for as long as it does. I noticed that by two-thirds of the way through I usually started to get bored and was ready to do something else. Considering the album does little in regard to album structure, it would've been all too easy to remove some of the later tracks. Outside "Sea of Red" very clearly being a closer, the rest of the tracklist just feels like a collection of tunes somewhat randomly sewn together. I can only fault Firepower so much for this as Priest has never exactly been a master of album structure, and their style of songwriting tends to lend itself to the "just a collection of tracks" method of album assembly anyway.

Had one managed to have never heard Priest before, this album would likely blow them away. Rob Halford is in peak form, delivering some of the best vocal work of his career. He's in his sixties, yet somehow he still more than represents what one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time should sound like... the man is immortal, I swear. And you've got your classic soaring choruses on "Rising from Ruins" and "No Surrender" to prove it. The instrumentation is unrelenting, naturally, save for a few moments like the piano interlude: "Guardians." Some of the finest guitar riffing being found on tracks like "Evil Never Dies" and "Flamethrower." The drums never stood out to me, but get the job done. The lyrics are pretty standard Priest: very dramatic, a tad goofy at times, but ultimately self-aware and lovable.

Firepower is a good Judas Priest album, maybe a great one, but it comes at a time when we've already heard numerous other great Judas Priest albums. If I want to listen to Priest I'm going to choose an older album over this one every time. Yet I think this album far surpasses other more recent outputs like Redeemer of Souls, so maybe it's good that this came around as an example of a solid modern Priest album. As much as I may criticize Firepower for not reinventing the wheel, I would still recommend every metal-head give it a listen. It's great while it's on, just nothing I think I'll find myself coming back to.